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Being A Reader: The Magic of Books

Books.

Vintage Books by CarlChristensenTo some of us they’re a gentle pastime, something to read on the beach or on the daily commute; a lunch break companion or a ritual before bedtime, a chapter at a time. For others, they are like friends, companions that we look to as fondly as if they live and breathe along with us—they are a way of life. Then there is the even ground between the two, where some books are selected as a quick and easy read to pass a spare half an hour and others are revered as firm favourites. Whichever one describes us, we’re all here because of them. Books.

But what does it mean to be a reader? It might be a simple enough question with a straightforward answer: a reader reads books. However, I want to suggest that the greater number of readers here view books as something a little more than just bound stacks of paper, words on a page or a soft white screen. There’s a certain passion behind being a Reader, capital R—and that’s what I want to explore.

Some of us were weaned onto books by parents almost along with our daily milk, whilst others found pleasure in the written word some other way, alone or encouraged by someone at a later age. It’s not really important. I’m going to go out on a limb and call everyone here a Reader. I suspect that many fans of this site have either attended a signing to meet or acquire the signature of a favourite author, or in the very least have eagerly awaited the release of that special book.

I Heart Books by refashionedBut what does it really mean to be a reader, someone who reads books? In my last article I remarked how odd I found it to think that I could be the only person in the building who is aware of the fact that Peter V. Brett not only exists, but is so beloved a writer that upon receiving an ARC of The Daylight War I actually gave a “whoop” more befitting the winning of a lottery or some such. Well, now imagine that the woman in front of you in the queue, or the man who just handed you your change is not a reader at all; imagine that they do not have bookshelves at home—and if they do, they are filled with junk and devoid of a single printed volume bar some tatty copy of the OED or that Shakespeare play they had to study for school and never got around to throwing out or taking it to Oxfam.

She's Reading by StreetByOuritImpossible, isn’t it?

It’s utterly boggling to think that whilst some people’s bookshelves are filled with the TV Times and the DVD remote, others are straining under the weight of double-parked, triple-stacked books that threatened to overspill long before the pile began to form next to the bedside table. This is when one begins to realise that being a Reader is a way of life, complete with its own little rituals and characteristics.

But being a Reader also means living in a different way. If you think that sounds dramatic, think of this quote by GRRM:

“A reader lives a thousand lived before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

When considered in this way, being a Reader is something of a privilege—something that not everyone is subject to. Perhaps reading is the one way to become immortal; to live, as GRRM says, a thousand lives. There is a certain understanding, when one is a Reader, that books will always be there and that should the world be grey, colourless and difficult, a hundred thousand worlds await your attention and a hundred thousand people will be there to see you through.

Library Books by margoloveThere’s a school of opinion that sees reading as escapism. I won’t specifically reiterate again and again that we’re talking about science fiction and fantasy here—because of course we are. But maybe there is an extra layer to the level of escapism achieved when reading about worlds that don’t exist and people that never could. Some people read entirely to escape; others would go crazy without the companionship of completely fictional people. A second quote by GRRM rather eloquently puts the feelings behind that escapism into words:

“We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think…There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us. They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to Middle Earth.”

Whether reading is just a way of leaving behind the real world or a bone-deep instinct that cannot be quelled, there is something undeniably special about science fiction and fantasy. GRRM has the right of it when he suggests there’s something true and timeless to be found within the genre. Without the limitations of the real world, of the real societies that we inhabit, there is the chance to rebuild the world from the ground up, bricks and mortar placed howsoever the writer desires. Within SFF there is the chance to change the world and to show that change.

Reading in the Snow by Katarina KrekPreviously in my series about YA SFF, I mentioned a Twitter hashtag that essentially suggested the power of YA literature: #YASaves. It probably does, but then so does any kind of literature, I think. Books save; reading saves. Fictional or not, the following admission by Will Herondale of Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices is a reflection of how deeply books can affect us:

“It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them.”

Pretty powerful stuff, really—but then that’s books for you. Words have the power to change us and Readers who accept that power are ultimately those with richer and deeper minds. I could wax lyrical about books and the power of words for veritable reams. Who couldn’t?

There is a secondary issue that comes with being a Reader—the first being that we need books—and that is the caretaking duty of the books we read. Library borrowers have the easy end of this, since their responsibility lies only within the acquiring, reading and returning of books. Then we have those who buy, read and then give away to charity shops or as second hand gifts to friends. With no emotional attachment to the paper and binding themselves, a Reader can merrily trot to the British Heart Foundation and deliver their shopping bag of books.

Stacked and Sorted by tanjatizianaBut then we have the Book Collectors…and then we have those who have absolutely run out of space. It happens, and it will happen to every single book collector at one point or another. Some will migrate towards e-readers and say a hard goodbye to paper and ink. Others are too attached to the smell of the books to which they cleave and will only relinquish that tatty first edition when it is prised from their iron grip with a crowbar or a disgruntled parent/other half, fed up of books being stacked on top of the toaster or in front of the cat flap.

Pornokitsch blogged about “Book Un-Collecting” recently, citing some of the dilemmas that a collector faces—let alone also being a book reviewer to boot! As he so wisely suggests, shelf-space is at a premium and sooner or later there will be books that we need to say goodbye to. I’ve seen writers on Twitter getting a little emotional about letting go of books they’ve had for decades. There is so much attachment to books when reading is a part of your life that deciding whether to let go of that particular first edition or this newer edition with the terrible cover, but that is signed, is a genuine question of: what the hell do I do?

Fairy Tales by kameronelisabethSo you see, it isn’t easy being a Reader, let alone being someone who, when attending a convention and given the chance to stalk authors with a Sharpie in hand, must spend weeks beforehand umming and ahhing over which books to take, which to buy (or even re-buy) at the event, and which to forsake this time. It’s a complicated life of marking release dates for books on calendars, trying to restrain frustration at a book being delayed for a fifth time in lieu of understanding that authors have lives and problems and delays, and making sure that your TBR list doesn’t topple over and break your foot. But it’s worth it, isn’t it? All the time spent reading the forums here (or elsewhere), scanning over a Twitter feed full of the musings of favourite authors—never mind all the time spent actually reading.

Being a Reader is something of a commitment, especially if one chooses to immerse oneself within the genre world so deeply as to attend signings, conventions and to stay afoot of the latest topics of interest and controversy. Instead of being a hobby such as knitting, tennis, or Sudoku, being a full-time Reader is a way of life.

Title image by refashioned.

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10 Comments

  1. Avatar JC Crumpton says:

    Loved the description of the Book Collector: an apt description of the affliction from which I suffer; however, the term “book-uncollecting” depicts something that to me is unfathomable to the point that it would throw me into an epileptic seizure of legendary proportions. The stacks are growing. But when the kids go off to college, their rooms may be a bit different when they pop back in for a visit.

  2. Avatar Amanda Taggart says:

    Hi guys, awesome article. Would you mind if I shared on my urban fantasy site, due to go live in a couple of weeks? Will promote your site as the source and post a link too.
    Thanks
    Amanda

    • Avatar Autumn2May says:

      Thanks! You can feel free to discuss the article, use a small excerpt, or a quote as long as you link back. 🙂

      • Avatar Amanda Taggart says:

        Thank you! I took the whole article but left the pictures (except for one). It is clearly noted that the article comes from your site, the author is mentioned as well as your URL. I hope that’s ok? As soon as the site goes live I’ll let you know. 🙂

        • Avatar Overlord says:

          It’s not really… no. You shouldn’t go stealing content from other people’s blogs unless it is a press release or promotional piece (and therefore you are encouraged to help the seller promote their goods). Please DO NOT publish this on your blog or we will have to contact your host. You are free to link to it of course, but taking content from our blog and posting it on yours isn’t fair (or legal).

  3. Avatar Amanda Taggart says:

    Thanks a mil, will do ????

  4. […] Being A Reader: The Magic of Books: To some of us they’re a gentle pastime, something to read on the beach or on the daily commute; a lunch break companion or a ritual before bedtime, a chapter at a time. – by Leo Elijah Cristea – Tags: reading – http://fantasy-faction.com/2013/being-a-reader-the-magic-of-books […]

  5. […] The key to making a good adaptation isn’t to put on a visual show. Most works make the mistake of erasing all but the most basic of storylines and replaces them with as much action as possible. The key is to view what you’re making not as a shadow of what you’re trying to imitate, but as the inspiration for a completely independent piece of work. Take the Lord of The Rings for example. It stands as one of the most successful film series to date, and is credited with kickstarting the trend of turning books onto the big screen. But as anyone who’s read the books knows, much of the plot in the film has been changed, or even completely altered, bearing little resemblance to the original. For tv series, we have Game of Thrones. Fellow readers will know how many details have been changed, multiple characters are combined into one, and timelines are shifted with regularity. Yet both of these examples are critically and commercially successful. The point is that what works in words and what works on screen does not always match. It is up to the filmmakers to decide what to keep and what to erase. However, what cannot be changed is the magic: the things that drew people to love it in the first place. It could be the dialogue, the chemistry of the characters. It could be the storylines, the overall buildup of the entire piece. It could be the dragons. In the end, you can change and erase everything else, but you cannot cut corners on the magic. I watch Game of Thrones mostly because of the dialogue, which can be long and time consuming, yet satisfies you much more than any sword fight. I watch/read Sherlock Holmes for the witty dialogue and to see a genius at work, which some bring and some don’t. The book(s) were successful for a reason, and every book has it’s own magic. […]

  6. Nice article! I loved it! 😀

  7. Avatar Sumit Sharma says:

    A book is where magicians don’t perform, the authors and their words perform. A magic where there is no particular stage, your imagination is the stage. It isn’t like the stage and place which cannot be carried; here the stage and place walk with you wherever you go.

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